Kenya: Goodbye

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

We have spent the last 10 weeks fully immersed in our Maasai Mara project, but we have now packed up, dropped the cars back to the hire company and waved our final goodbyes to the local team and our expeditioners.

The last week has been challenging with the ground becoming waterlogged and muddy due to the early onset of the wet season, but group 4 mastered it all with great attitude. They faced down all adversity with aplomb and persevered in all conditions. Well done!

Here are some collated headline data from our biodiversity monitoring research:

64,801 total animals recorded

915 raptors and endangered birds

47,204 mammals recorded on vehicle transects with a total distance of 1,124 km including sightings of lions, cheetahs, elephants, leopards and bush pigs

170 km driven on transect in Enonkishu, 342 km driven on transect in Mbokishi and 533 km driven on transect in Ol Chorro

Foot patrols recorded 274 samples of scat and 212 of footprints over a total distance of 48 km

126 hours of waterhole observation with 14,783 animals recorded

1,899 iconic species/ interesting animal activity recorded via mammal mapping

11,211 images captured by hotspot cameras that contained images of animals

Now that the Kenya expedition has come to a close, we would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the people that made this expedition successful.

The team at the Wild Hub who looked after us. The who logistics team kept us and the vehicles from Market Car Hire going for the whole ten weeks, despite a difficult start. The rangers at Enonkishu, Mbokishi and Ol Chorro who have been alongside us through rain and shine and imparted so much knowledge and information on us and our expeditioners. We couldn’t have done this without you, so thank you for your hard work.

Thank you also to our expedition scientists Roland and Rebekah for their committment, insights and hard work. And most of all thank you to the 49 citizen scientists who gave up their valuable holiday time to assist with and money to fund this research – we absolutely could not have done this without you. We know that you could have spent the 13 days on a beach somewhere sipping mojitos, but you came to Kenya, woke up at 06:00 every day and worked relentlessly, so that we could collect these data. We appreciate each and every one of you, your hard work, dedication and ability to put up with our bad jokes even when you are exhausted from a full days work. We really hope to see you on another Biosphere Expedition very soon. Take care and we hope that you will cherish the memories of Kenya as fondly as we will.

Best wishes

Johnny Adame
Expedition leader

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Kenya: Still going

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

Group 4 has arrived in the Maasai Mara and have picked up where group 3 left off. Sunday and Monday were training days with our now familiar sessions on equipment and methodologies, flanked bypresentations by Rebekah. Group 4 had luck on their side when during the driver training, there were cheetah and elephant sightings – the elephant sighting being a family group of 9 within Mbokishi, which is rare.

The weather has been doing its best to scupper our plans with torrential downpours and thunderstorms, but we are flexible and adaptable in our planning and so far, the weather hasn’t impacted our research. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t had vehicles stuck in the mud, but that’s a different story!

On transect in Ol Chorro we came across a giraffe carcass that had been there for just a couple of days. This turned out to be a feast for the wildlife with over 20 hyaenas in the area and some jackal waiting patiently for their turn to eat. Further away from the action were vultures and eagles fighting over various body parts.

Group 4 are our final group for this Kenya expedition and we are making our preparations to leave the Maasai Mara. Rebekah and Roland are busy planning the expedition report, but we still have data to collect and transects to complete in the meantime. We will be back with updates of how the final local education day of the expedition went later this week.

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Kenya: Exitus III

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

Group 3 have finished and made their way back home whilst Roland, Rebekah and I take a week’s break to prepare for the fourth and final Kenya group of 2023. Group 3 has worked tirelessly for the past two weeks and the data quality and quantity speak for themselves:

16,719 total animals recorded

195 raptors and endangered birds recorded, including 6 secretary birds

13,093 mammals recorded on 23 vehicle transects with a total distance of 311 km including sightings of lions, cheetahs and bush pigs

12 foot patrols completed recording

139 samples of scat and 65 of footprints

Two 14 hour waterhole observations with 3,121 observations in total, these sightings were predominantly domestic, as we establish baseline data for Mbokishi (also see the pie chart below, which paints a very clear picture of the difference between established and newly founded conservancies)

310 iconic species/ interesting animal activities recorded including a hyaena sleeping in a puddle in the middle of the road (!) and 6 ostriches

4,328 images captured by hotspot cameras that contained images of animals, including leopard, lion, giraffe and bush pig

Group 3 – we can’t thank you enough for the commitment and hours of hard work you have put into making this a success. Great to meet you all.

Group 4 – see you on Sunday at our assembly point in Nairobi. Please come prepared for wet weather, mud and long days!

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Kenya: School day 3

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

For our third local school day, we arranged to work with a different school, this time from Munyas in Mbokishi conservancy. This is the first time that we have worked with a local school that is based within one of the conservancies and it’s a great opportunity to showcase the benefits of conservation locally and to have open discussion about human-wildlife conflict and fears relating to changes near their homes.

We started the day with a game drive. We drove through Mbokishi so we could witness the wildlife near to the school and then ventured into Enonkishu. The students were treated to sightings of wildebeest, giraffe, hippo, zebra, baboon, warthog and birds including secretary bird, tawny eagle and kingfisher. The game drive was a chance for us to demonstrate the difference that over 10 years of being a conservancy can make for wildlife.

Back at the expedition base, we played some games before local ranger Sikona joined us to give a talk to the students in order to foster relationships between the rangers and the students, as well as demonstrating the opportunities that conservation and ecotourism can offer. After dropping the students back at school and returning to base, we received a message of thanks from the school headmaster. He informed us that students were still excitedly talking about the animals and fun activities whilst the highlight for others was using a flush toilet for the first time! One of our citizen scientists brought a photo printer and gave the students their own individual photos to remember the day, which was also very popular.

We are now preparing to leave Enonkishu for a short break before returning with our final group 4. We hope your preparations are going smoothly and we will see you in Nairobi in just over a week.

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Kenya: Smooth going

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

The Kenya expedition is at full speed and the data are coming in thick and fast. The mornings start with crisp cool air, blue skies and the now familiar Kenyan dawn chorus. As the heat rises, clouds build through the day, usually culminating in a raucous mid-afternoon thunderstorm. The weather has settled into a pattern and so have we in group 3.

Biodiversity is one of the key features of the Maasai Mara, with its varied landscape, from grassy plains to forested areas, providing habitats for a diverse range of species including over 95 species of mammals and 500 species of birds. We have been busy mapping this biodiversity through vehicle transects, foot patrols and camera trapping. Group 3 have been fortunate to record cheetahs, lions, bush pigs, bat-eared foxes, elephants and mongoose amongst the usual ungulate crowd. We have some very keen birders that have been busy spotting and identifying birds for our raptor mapping project and we have had sightings of secretary birds, bateleurs, ostriches and an array of eagles and buzzards.

We have also had reports of animals dying without any clear sign of injury including three zebras in a 24 hour period. We have spoken to local people and rangers, but we don’t have a clear consensus on the cause yet. We have been busy setting up camera traps to collect more information.

As we enter the second week of group 3 we have a full and busy schedule ahead of us. We are continuing with our usual day-to-day data collecting alongside making plans for our local education day on Wednesday. So all well here and things going well.

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Kenya: Transition

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

Group 3 have arrived in the Mara, and with them – the rain! The past few weeks have been hot and dry with siestas becoming a necessity in the midday sun. The grass had become yellow and scorched from the heat and the plains were beginning to turn to dustbowls. We are excited to witness the transformation of this habitat and the changes in animal behaviour that go along with this. This change in the weather has happened in line with annual expectations, which is a blessing in these challenging and changing times for our planet, where disruption to weather patterns is the new norm.

We have been busy since arriving at base on Sunday with 4×4 driving, scientific equipment, navigation and project methodologies on the training agenda. The driver training and practice transects gave our new citizen scientists a taste of the local area and wildlife and there is a great buzz of excitement around camp at the moment. Everyone is eager to get out into the field and put these newly learned skills into practice.

Today saw our second expedition birthday, Isabelle has been demanding that we make elephants and lions appear, but this seems to be beyond even the Biosphere Expeditions and Wild Hub teams! We celebrated with a team dinner followed by birthday cake, this time the German contingent made up for the disappointment of last week with a rousing rendition of “Zum Geburtstag viel Glück” and the French delegation delighted us with “Joyeux Anniversare”. We finished the day with a screening of The Elephant Queen, a fitting end to the day with a poignant reminder of the importance of the stability of wet and dry seasons.

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Kenya: Half way

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

Group 2 have made their way to Nairobi for their onward travels. Thank you for your hard work and dedication over the past 12 days. Roland and Rebekah are happy with the quantity and quality of data that’s been collected and it has been a productive expedition. The methodologies that are now well established, along with the output from citizen scientists, has all contributed to this success.

Here are some headline data that outline the hours of hard work put in by group 2: 11,469 total animals recorded

184 raptors and endangered birds recorded including 70 tawny eagles

8331 mammals recorded on 23 vehicle transects with a total distance of 243 km including sightings of lions, cheetahs and elephants

7 foot patrols completed, recording 71 samples of scat and 38 of footprints

2 x 14 hour waterhole observations with 2617 observations in total – these sightings were predominantly domestic as we establish baseline data for Mbokishi

337 iconic species/interesting animal activity recorded including jackals hunting gazelle and cheetah feeding on impala – our first sighting of a honey badger was recorded whilst on a night drive

15,950 pictures captured by camera traps and many hours spent poring over the data led to records of bush pig, leopard, hyaena, vulture and white-tailed mongoose

Group 3 – rest up and enjoy the luxury in Nairobi before we get stuck into science work and long hours on Sunday!

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Kenya: Animals, for real

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

The days in the Mara have been full of activity, the citizen scientists have been busy collecting data and scientist Roland has finally been able to see that there are a great and diverse range of animals here that exist in the real world and not just on spreadsheets. The Cybertracker app has been optimised and is now working well across the five different projects we are using for our animal mapping.

We have completed two waterhole observations of 14 hours each – the first had to be moved due to a lack of water (apparently this is an essential component when observing waterholes). The second observation was in Mbokishi – a new conservancy where the wildlife is yet to flourish. This apparent lack of wildlife led to some ”interesting” sightings from tired eyes – 113 ostriches? Baby crocodiles (actually tortoise)? These waterhole observations – although low in sightings – are vital in order to generate a baseline of data to show the progress being made here in the coming years.

Monday saw the first expedition birthday, we all joined together to sing happy birthday for Alistair and to share a delicious homemade cake. After the shameful refusal from the German contingent to sing “Zum Geburtstag viel Glück” to the birthday boy, the staff at the Wild Hub performed an entrancing song and dance for us all instead.

The weather has been hot and dry with temperatures reaching into the mid 30s and not a drop of rain for the past week. The ground is becoming sun-baked and yellow and we are all hoping for some relief to these conditions soon. The electricity and Wi-Fi have been temperamental, to put it nicely, but overall the expedition is running smoothly and we are working as a strong unit to continue with the essential science.

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Kenya: Camera trapping

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

We have been reaping the rewards of the hard work put in over the past weeks with several successful hotspot camera trap placements. One camera trap was retrieved from a location that had been suggested by local rangers, where we captured genet, hippo, giraffe (lower half), baboon, hyaena, dik dik and civet.

In Mbokishi we discovered the carcass of a hyaena by the transect line. This hyaena was purported to have been killed by a lion – along with two cattle in the local area, although there was no evidence on the hyaena to suggest this to be the case. A camera trap was placed at this site and over the first night there were visits from white-tailed mongoose and jackal. We visited the site again the next day: the carcass was still there, in a worse state, in a cloud of flies and stench. We took the opportunity to add a second camera trap – set to record video – and we will see what interest the carcass attracts over the coming days and nights.

A camera trap set up at an elephant carcass saw a group of hyaena spend over three and a half hours working their way through the skeleton and remains. Hyaena are such vital part of the ecosystem and help to prevent the spread of disease and bacteria. Strangely, there were no other visitors for the next ten days.

We have also been hard at work servicing the permanent camera trap grids in Ol Chorro and Enonkishu and have so far serviced nine of these permanent cameras with over 3,000 images to sift through.

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Kenya: Cheetahs and lions

Update from our Africa volunteer project working on the Big Five and biodiversity in the Maasai Mara of Kenya

After what felt like an eternity in isolation, it is great to meet the new citizen scientists and get stuck into the work we are here to do. Roland stepped up to the plate admirably in my absence and is owed at least a few bottles of Tusker to say thank you. The staff at the Wild Hub, Rebekah and Stanlynn have also worked hard to keep things running smoothly and it is much appreciated. I will nominate you all for an O.B.E. (Order of Biosphere Expeditions) in Kaiser Hammer’s new year’s honours list.

We have picked up where group 1 left off and after two days of training have completed our first transects in Enonkishu with everyone taking turns at the different processes in order to gain experience. There were sightings of giraffe, zebra, hippo, buffalo, impala, gazelle, wildebeest and our first sighting of cheetah. Not bad for the first morning!

Back at the expedition base, we have had to introduce some new protocols due to the presence of lions in the area. A lioness killed a warthog in the garden of the manager’s house at base there were reports of a lion kill again last night. We are being cautious in our approach, however, it is worth noting that lions are not naturally aggressive towards humans in nature unless provoked, protecting their young or when food is scarce. There are no reports of young in the area and food is currently abundant, so with a little common sense, the risks are low.

We also placed three camera traps near by the warthog kill and Adam (one of the managers here) has edited a short video documenting the comings and goings of the local wildlife (see below).

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